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Monday, September 11, 2023

A statue of Carabinieri leads to the question: What was the role of this national armed force under Fascism?


La pattuglia nella tempesta.

One of the rabbit holes we went down this year started on the day we flew into Rome and wandered into the park across from Palazzo del Quirinale while waiting for the time on our timed tickets for the Scuderie exhibition (more on that exhibition in a future post). The park's center has a statue of Carlo Alberto, father of Vittorio Emanuele II, the first King of a united Italy in the 1860s. But that's a traditional equestrian statue. We gravitated instead to a statue of two figures, on the back side of the park, and seemingly "lost" on the park grounds. Italians no doubt recognize the flowing capes and (what I now know are called) bicorn hats, but we didn't. After much Google sleuthing, we discovered these figures represent Carabinieri from 1814, when they were formed as the King's police. The statue - from 2014 - celebrates the national police force's bicentennial. 

By Florentine sculptor Antonio Berti (1904-1990), the statue is, in our minds, a gem. It's titled "La pattuglia nella tempesta" - "The patrol in the storm," and is designed to show the Carabinieri - off their horses (or these days, out of their cars), in any weather, helping their countrymen and women. I love those flowing capes. There's something about the work that reminds me of Rodin's Balzac, though I'm probably getting carried away here.

   Outside the museum. The tourists
don't even look at it.

And now the rabbit hole. In trying to find the subject and name of the statue, I ran across an article titled "Italian policemen and fascist ideology," by Dr. Jonathan Dunnage of Swansea University in the UK. Many Italians look at the Carabinieri and Fascists this way: they were the King's police force. The King was a Fascist; the Carabinieri supported the King. When the King separated himself from Mussolini, so did they. Kind of "just doing their job." 

Dunnage is more critical. In a summary of his article, he states, "There is little doubt that, without undergoing dramatic transformations, the Italian Interior Ministry police and Carabinieri played key roles in the enforcement of the fascist dictatorship."  This summary focuses on the police, rather than on the Carabinieri, and, arguably, the Carabinieri were more independent. I contacted Dunnage, who was kind enough to exchange emails with me. In a response to me, he contends, "On the other hand, both police organizations would have been grateful for a government which claimed to restore respect for the law (and for the institutions of law and order) following the 'humiliations' of the 'Red Two Years' (1919-1920)." [Elaboration by Dunnage on this theme is at the end of this post.]

The statue, Dunnage's comments, and a lunch with two Roman friends convinced us to return to the Carabinieri Museum (Museo storico dell'Arma dei Carabinieri) in Piazza del Risorgimento (where most folks are heading in droves to the Vatican). We had been there previously, for a press conference announcing the recovery of stolen art works (the Carabinieri have an art recovery section). Our lunch companions told us the museum had been reorganized and modernized (it needed it; all material was only in Italian, for starters), and that a relative of one of them, a retired Carabiniere, had designed the new exhibition. We couldn't wait to go back.

We found the first floor, in particular, much better organized, and with all placards in both Italian and English. Paintings, more than photographs, illustrated the Carabinieris' bravery. 

The Carabiniere at left was serving in the Barmash (Albania) Carabinieri Station when it was attacked "On December 28, overwhelming enemy forces, which he resisted heartily. Once the ammunition ran out, he did not give up, but with hand grenades faced the enemy together with [another Carabiniere], who fell with him." Note, no mention of who the enemy is.

Looking at the historical panorama that covers the Fascist ventennio (20+ years), one can see a sort of amnesia:

The dates are, left to right, 1922, 1936, 1941, 1942. The painting above 1942 is the painting above in this post of the Carabiniere in Albania.

There are pictures and stories of the Italian African campaign, in which the Carabinieri figured prominently, and of battles raged against "brigands" in Sicily and elsewhere. Nothing about Fascists, Mussolini, or fighting for the State against partisans in Italy. The second floor is laid out similarly, although the English translators haven't yet made it to that floor. There, under 1928, is an illustration of the Carabinieri fighting Sicilian brigands; under 1936, a battle in Somalia. 

Above, one of the more interesting paintings, of the Battle of Culqualber, which lasted from August to November 1941 in Ethiopia ("Italian East Africa"), and is considered the end of the the war in East Africa for the Italians. Carabinieri and colonial forces fought the British Commonwealth forces there.

The only place we saw any reference to Mussolini or Fascism was in the collection of annual calendars, and even then the one with Mussolini on the cover was high up on the wall and difficult to photograph; one has to recognize his profile - which any Italian would:
All of the calendars in the Fascist era use the Fascist
numbering system. Mussolini is on the cover second from
left, middle row, year 1939, XVII E.F. (17, Fascist Era,
i.e., 17 years after the 1922 March on Rome).
The online site for the museum is filled with information. And if one searches for Mussolini or Fascism, there are many citations. Among them is the intriguingly titled "I Carabinieri nel novecento italiano - la fine delle illusioni" ("The Carabinieri in 1900s Italy: the end of illusions"). The post has a good summary of Italy at the end of the Fascist era, but nothing about the Carabinieri in that period. And so it goes with the other entries in which Fascism is mentioned.

With the year 1943, the panels change dramatically to the Carabinieri fighting against the Nazis as part of the Resistance. 

Right, a Carabiniere in Greece, 
trampling the Nazi flag and 
raising the Italian one.

There's no doubt many Carabinieri were significant in the Resistance to the Nazis, after the King abandoned Mussolini.

Some were shot by the Germans, and 12 were murdered in the massacre at the Fosse Ardeatine outside Rome (on an itinerary in our first book on Rome, Rome the Second Time). A monument to the 12 is in the museum:

The exhibitions bring the Carabinieri into the 1970s and 1980s, with their efforts to combat the Red Brigades (Brigate Rosse), who assassinated politician and statesman Aldo Moro. In the panels below, his portrait is labeled "'78" - the year he was killed. "'83" is a painting depicting the Carabinieri, led by Mario D'Aleo, who were ambushed and killed in Sicily by the Mafia that year.

There are also some "fun facts" in the museum, including posters of movies featuring Carabinieri.

Right, the beloved "Pane, Amore e Fantasia" 
(In English, "Bread, Love and Dreams"), 
starring Vittorio De Sica and Gina Lollobrigida.

And our museum tour ended where it began, with our rabbit hole. An entire corner and display is devoted to the statue of La pattuglia nella tempesta, which is popular enough that one can buy small replicas of it, as in, Exit through the Gift Shop.

Dianne [see more from Jonathan Dunnage below the photo]

Here is Jonathan Dunnage's more complete response (in an email to me) to the argument that the Carabinieri weren't at heart Fascists:

It has been argued that the Carabinieri were less complicit with the fascist regime because of their loyalty to the monarchy, as a result of which Mussolini decided to entrust policing and surveillance first and foremost to the Interior Ministry police. However, if you consider that the Carabinieri were answerable to the Interior Ministry for matters of policing, and if you look at daily policing activities on the ground, it is obvious that the Carabinieri were complicit, even if their position was secondary to that of the Interior Ministry police. Despite formal adhesion to the regime, as evident in public ceremonies, it has been suggested that the Carabinieri managed to maintain a degree of aloofness. On the other hand, both police organizations would have been grateful for a government which claimed to restore respect for the law (and for the institutions of law and order) following the 'humiliations' of the 'Red Two Years' (1919-1920). Members of the police and the Carabinieri, whether or not they were staunch fascists, had historically been accustomed to seeing the forces of the Left as dangerous for public order, and one can imagine that many saw the fascist regime as enabling them to do their job of 'protecting' Italian society from anarchists, socialists and communists, when the preceding Liberal governments had appeared hesitant (i.e. for fear of infringing citizens' democratic rights).

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